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How to Read a Tenpin Bowling Lane: A Guide to Reading a Lane

A bowler needs to be able to read how the oil has been applied or has spread over the course of a game or several games.

Tenpin lane basics

The lanes are made out of either a hardwood such as maple or synthetic wood and has to withstand the weight and speed of a ball rolling down them. The weight of a 16lb (7.3kg) can multiply to 3331lbs (150kg) per square inch. Oil is used to condition the wood and to reduce friction between the ball and lane, with no oil on the back end (in front of the pins) and the use of hooking (curving) the ball in this area encounters an increase of friction and will turn inwards to the pins just behind the 1pin (the pocket)

A bowler needs to be able to read how the oil has been applied or has spread over the course of a game or several games.

What to look for as tenpin lane conditions change

As balls are bowled the roll begins to be pushed down the lane which cause the oil pattern to change if you continue to use the same target line, it will eventually dry out causing the ball to miss the pocket. When this occurs you need to select another target line, bearing in mind the oil pattern that is now being played on.

Two tenpin lane conditions

Blocked Lane

There is more oil on the middle of the lane leading to the outside of the lane have more friction on the ball. This allows a bowler to hook a ball back into the lane and the pocket. When using the middle of the lane, it best to bowl straight.

Reversed Blocked Lane

This is from the oil in the middle of the lane being pushed to the outside of the lane. The ball and lane friction is lessened on the outside which leads to the ball going into the gutter if the bowler does not change their target line or adjust their hook.

Two oil patterns used to condition tenpin lanes

Top hat or the Wall

The oil is applied on a few of the middle boards of the lane, with no oil being applied to the outside or back of the lane. This pattern is used in open and casual league play as no high level of skill is needed. The ball can be bowled wide with some spin played and will curve (hook) in with little difficulty or chance of going into the ‘gutter’, this pattern tends to ba called ‘adult bumper bowling’.

Christmas Tree

This is the fairest pattern, the oil is applied over all the lane with extra been placed on the middle of the lane, the back end of the lane is left dry. All levels of bowlers can play on this pattern, although due to the oil on the outside of the lane some ability is needed to curve the ball away from the gutter.

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